Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Another aside on the question of language, partly inspired by the sacking of Cheryl Cole from an American TV program because her accent was said to be incomprehensible to US audiences. (Note to self – remember never to watch another movie with Holly Hunter doing her southern accent unless accompanied by an interpreter.)
‘Hell is other people’. Of course it is. They judge us by how we look and what we wear, and there’s nothing much we can do to alter their hastily formed opinions. I’m not just bemoaning the fact that, as a decrepit male, I can’t be photographed standing naked behind a pile of my books and hope it’ll create a sudden boost in sales. No, I think it’s a self-evident truth. We’re judged by how we look and, perhaps most of all, by how we speak.
(As an aside to this aside, I should add that writers are also judged by their books. After reading a passage from my first book where my detective sits at traffic lights watching schoolgirls cross the road and reflecting on how they look, my wife said “Oh. So you fancy schoolgirls then, do you?”)
As a writer of both novels and plays, it’s the speaking bit of the equation that interests me. Without wishing to offend anyone, I’d suggest that if you have a character saying “The proliferation of epistolary exegesis prohibits the development of arcane terminology to a devastating extent”, he won’t be carrying a hod on a construction site.
No, the real problems arise when you want to convey accents. If someone has a strong regional accent of any sort, that’s part of who they are. Take the accent away from them and they cease to be the same person. The trouble for the writer is that he/she needs to convey the accent in such a way that the reader doesn’t have to stop to ask “WTF’s that all about?”
I encountered this with that same first book. It’s set where I live, in Aberdeen. I come originally from Plymouth, which is at the opposite corner of the UK, so you can imagine the disparity between the accents I heard when I was growing up and those I hear nowadays. In a pub in Plymouth (and I know because I lived in one) you’ll hear ‘Wobbe gwain ev?’ The same question in an Aberdeen pub might be ‘Fitchy wintin?’ Both are asking you what you want to drink. In ‘correct’ English, the first is ‘What are you going to have?’ and the second is ‘What are you wanting?’
So when, naturally enough, I made some of my fictional local policemen speak with an Aberdeen accent, my editor in London put me straight right away. “Fa ye spikkin till?” (To whom are you speaking?) and “Fa’s 'e loon?” (Who is that boy?) would mean nothing at all to anyone south of the border between Scotland and England and her suggestion was that I should restrict myself to letting the characters say ‘Aye’ to indicate that they were Scots. In the end, there had to be a compromise, so they weren’t incomprehensible, but they did retain some of their accents.
The annoying thing then was that, in an otherwise very enthusiastic review of my second book, the local paper wrote “Some of the Scots dialogue is a little suspect and inconsistent”.
See what I mean? Hell really is other people.
Friday, June 24, 2011
WHY DO WE LIKE MYSTERIES?
Did you ever stop to wonder why you enjoy reading mysteries?
I've heard many mystery authors explain it this way: We read mysteries because we know that the offender will be punished, and good will overcome.
Yes, that's true. But isn't it also true of most romances? Or women's fiction? How about Westerns? I haven't read one in years, but I imagine the cowboys still shoot the bad guys.
Lots of men, especially, seem to enjoy hard-boiled mysteries for their blood and gore.
Many of us, however, like cozies just as well. We like some humor and romance and--oh, yes, there's a dead body or three or four, and we do want to know who the bad guy or gal is and how they're put away.
I think maybe we grab on to characters we like to spend time with, and those characters often people mystery series. We know they'll do the right thing (more than not), and we will continue to cheer them on. They might be fun (like readers describe mine--excuse the BSP, but it's true:) Our heroes might be deadly and carrying lots of flaws. That makes some people like them even more.
Why do YOU read mysteries?
The Ancient Art of Face Reading
Physiognomy or face reading was developed by the Chinese before the birth of Christ and has been practiced for more than 2,000 years as a branch of medicine to diagnose illnesses as well as determine a person's character. The reasoning behind the practice is that a person’s personality or inner vitality are closely related to his spirit and physical well being, according to author Timothy T. Mar, who wrote the book, Face Reading.
Face reading practicioners take many facial features into consideration before they determine a patient’s ailments, character, criminality or other behavior. The shapes of faces tell them one thing in conjunction with the size and shape of the eyes and other features. The more evenly proportioned, the better a person’s character. When a physiognomist determines that a face is strong, he means that the person has strength and inner vitality. But a crooked nose, uneven eyebrows or protruding ears can detract from the overall positive reading.
Persons with oblong faces are called aristocratic because most rulers and those in power usually have this shape of face. During the Roman era, some leaders and Kings hid their faces from the enemy so that their intentions could not be read.
The triangular shaped face with broad forehead and tapered chin generally denotes someone sensitive and a loner while the semi-triangular face with squared off chin is said to be more intelligent, sensitive, artistic and mellow.
The square face belongs to a rugged, masculine person with a temper. They’re usually slow thinkers and stubborn. Those with round faces and small noses are easy going and peaceful by nature.
Pracitioners first read the eyes which are the best indictators of a person’s health and character. Eyes that “glitter” indicate vitality and well being as well as a powerful personality. The ideal eyebrows are long, broad and elegant, according to Mar. Elegant brows indicate a person’s harmony with society and relationship with relatives while a drooping brow signifies a shy or cowardly nature. When the middle of eyelids droop slightly over the eye it’s considered a sign of maturity, especially if the person is between 30 and 40.
The nose occupies the epicenter of the face and the Chinese call an ideal nose the “lion nose” because it represents a strong and passionate nature. Such a person is usually successful and serves in high office. Physiognomists believe there is a relationship between the nose and lower brain development. Someone with a long nose usually has a conservative personality while a short-nosed person is apt to be more open-minded, optimistic and dislikes detail.
Another indicator of character is the mouth. Those with bow-shaped lips are said to be incapable of holding positions of importance while people with broad mouths and distinctly red lips are said to be capable of authority.
Also taken into consideration are the size and shapes of ears, broad or low foreheads, groves between noses and mouths, wrinkles, moles, scars and other facial defects. The physiognomist totals up many facial features (or detracts from the positive ones) before making a final determination.
I wonder if the fictional detective Charley Chan practiced the art of face reading while tracking down criminals?
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
America The Confused, The Divided
Benjamin Franklin published this well-known Join, or Die political cartoon in the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1754. It is the earliest known pictorial representation of colonial unionizing by a British colonist in America. On July 4, 1776, representatives from thirteen now-united colonies signed their Declaration of Independence telling England to fight us if you dare. The colonists won the ensuing Revolutionary War with help from the French and built a nation based on the concept of liberty—where those who work hard are rewarded for their effort. People from around the world came to this new country to fulfill their dreams. Through their dedication, determination, and ingenuity, they created an economy grand enough to make the United States of America the most powerful nation on Earth. This didn’t happen without injustices, though. Native and slave populations apparently were exceptions to our Declaration’s Preamble, which states that “. . . all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In spite of this, our nation grew because its citizens pledged allegiance to their flag; a flag now bearing fifty stars honoring its states, the last being added on July 4th, 1960, following Hawaii’s statehood.
But much has changed since 1960. Our nation went through hell in Vietnam, and welfare reform paved the way for generational government handouts where many able-bodied welfare recipients have never worked for their stipend. Today, we are stuck in another endless war, and our government is giving out so many hand-outs that it is cutting critical education programs. Our infrastructure is in dire need of repair, but rather than fund our projects, we send money to foreign countries to repair their infrastructure. Those with health insurance pay extra to cover those who contribute nothing. Had our Forefathers maintained this attitude, our nation would never have been built.
September 11, 2001 was a shot in the arm for nationalism when, for the second time, The United States was attacked without provocation. For a brief period, we stood united again as people of all races and walks of life shared their outrage against those who hijacked four airliners to destroy the World Trade Center, a portion of the Pentagon, and our way of life. But our memories are short, our dedication slim. Soon, US flags were replaced with banners from others’ “home” countries. Ironically, many of these people flying foreign banners gladly accept the benefits and protection of our country without bothering to even learn its language. They have no problem standing in line in the Social Security Office demanding money they have not earned on the basis of entitlement. And though our nation is severely in debt, politicians won’t touch these subjects because it is politically incorrect.
If our country is to survive, all citizens must unite and stand together as Americans. It will require sacrifices for the common good. It will require all able-bodied people who are receiving government compensation be required to work for their stipend. It will require a paradigm shift from entitlement to President Kennedy’s work ethic of “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” We are still the People of the United States, and in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, we must all work together. Let’s give reason to celebrate this Independence Day by changing our focus from me to us, and become the nation our Forefathers intended.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
What's Up with THE END?
I just finished typing THE END on the last page of Good, Bad and Murderous, the second book in my Sid Chance mystery series. Frankly, I'm not totally pleased with the ending. I got to thinking about mystery endings and what we expect from them.
One requirement is to tie up all the loose ends. Well, most of them anyway. A reviewer of my first Greg McKenzie book complained that my ending was too pat. Although the reviewer liked the writing, she concluded:
"Every single thread was neatly tied at the conclusion of the book, which felt contrived and implausible."
So now I resolve all the major plot points, but I leave some of the character outcomes for the readers to draw their own conclusions.
In her book How To Write Killer Fiction, Carolyn Wheat says in the Golden Age of mysteries, the author could simply show that the detective knew how everything turned out. She points out how Ellery Queen would gather the suspects in a drawing room and "spend seven or eight closely reasoned pages expounding his theory on who had done what and why."
A feature of the ending for most mysteries these days is the confrontation between the hero (or PI, in my case) and the villain. I provided a double feature for this one. The first turns out a draw, so they meet again.
Carolyn Wheat calls what I refer to as the "wrap-up" chapter The Coda. She talks about Linda Barnes closing her book with a seder, the traditional Jewish ceremonial dinner. I wasn't aware of this, but I've used a dinner with all the good guys in most of my Greg McKenzie books. I also relied on it for the wrap-up of Good, Bad and Murderous.
I've depended on this technique in the past to have the main character say something illuminating, if not profound. I suppose that's what bothers me. I'm not sure what I have written here works. So maybe THE END isn't all that final after all.
How do you like your mysteries to end?
Monday, June 20, 2011
This past weekend our family moved to the country, or at least as far out as one can go and still be counted in the metropolitan census. We’re basically the first subdivision outside of St. Louis. My wife loves animals and the outdoors and I’m still in the throes of a low grade midlife crises, so it seemed like a good idea. An adventure even! I had wanted to move back to Florida or somewhere out West, but my wife’s too close to her family to move out of state, at least not until our kids get a bit older, so we settled on rural St. Louis. Believe it or not, it’s actually very pretty, in a rolling hills sort of way.
Our first day at our new house was like something out of Town & Country magazine. As we climbed up a long, winding road we were surprised to see a small herd of cows grazing under a big shade tree just a few feet off the street. And they weren’t slaughterhouse cows either; they were farm cows, peaceful and content. “Moo cows” my daughter called them. Later that afternoon a deer skittered across our backyard. It was all so perfect – romantic and charming. Even the weather felt better, as though the development in the city had somehow encased the heat and humidity. Out here we could literally feel our lungs expanding.
That night we made margaritas and sat out on our deck, listening to the sounds of nature instead of drunken college kids, police sirens, or the low, steady buzz of the metro system. We hadn’t been outside for more than an hour when we heard our first call of the wild, a lone coyote howling somewhere in the woods behind us. On cue, also far off in the distance, a dog responded to the coyote’s howl.
“Sounds like a bloodhound,” I said to my wife.
“Pretty cool,” she replied, and I could tell that she was enjoying herself. I told her that the first book I ever read was Where The Red Fern Grows. She took my hand and we sat quietly listening to the dog barking for half an hour or so before she broke the silence, “That dog’s still barking.”
“Yep, it’s definitely excited,” I said.
“It sounds distressed.”
“Like it’s tethered.”
I didn’t reply, for fear of so many things.
Yesterday morning, on my way drive back from Starbucks, I noticed a calf grazing on the wrong side of the fence. “The cows were under their tree again,” I said to my wife as I dropped off our Starbucks drinks.
“Awww; they’re so cute.”
“Yeah, I like ‘em too. One got out and was eating next to the road.”
“You mean on the wrong side of the fence?”
“Yep. Guess he felt lucky today.”
“Did you get him?”
“Did you get him?”
“Did I get him?”
“Yeah. Take that Q-Tip out of your ear so you can hear me.”
“It’s a cow. What do you mean did I ‘get him’? How am I gonna ‘get him’?”
“I don’t know. You could shoo him in?”
“I have no idea how to shoo a cow in. I don’t even know if you can. It’s not like a cat.”
“Well did you at least tell the owner?”
“How would I do that? I don’t even know who the owner is. And I’d have to climb over a barbed wire fence and hike who knows how far before I ever came to a barn or a house. The last thing I need is some hillbilly popping out of his barn with a shotgun because I trespassed on his property. Plus I have no idea what a pack of angry cows would do if they saw me climbing their fence.” With that, my wife walked out of the room, a look of disappointment stretching across her face, as though she’d been duped into believing that she’d married a shepherd.
The guy from Direct TV is coming later this afternoon to hook up our TVs. It’s a relief because now we won’t have to sit outside and listen to animals in distress or grieve over renegade cows. Thanks to high definition television and all the wonderful reality shows that place the viewer right in the heart of the action, we can watch nature as it was intended to be watched, through a crystal clear television screen.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
A Tribute to the Boston Bruins, Hockey, and my Dad
Greetings from beautiful, sunny Cape Cod, where the sky is a perfect shade of blue, the temperature is in the low seventies, and there's just a hint of light wind. I'd like to say this is typical June here, but I'd be lying. More typical is the weather we had earlier this week: gray skies, rain, horrific wind.
Perhaps this idyllic day is another way Nature is celebrating the victory of New England's own hockey team, the Bruins, and their upset win over Vancouver to win the coveted Stanley Cup after a 39-year drought. If you weren't wearing yellow and black around here yesterday, when the team's victory parade wound its way through the streets of Boston to the cheers of adoring fans, shame on you. Even Red Sox nation stopped and cheered. A little.
Today, of course, is Father's Day, and I spent some time this morning remembering my wonderful father, Harry Guilbault, a kind and gentle man with a quick wit and the most outgoing personality the Good Lord ever gave a human being. He died more than 30years ago, and I miss him.
I don't remember my father being a huge sports fan (except for the Red Sox, naturally). But it suddenly occurred to me that if it hadn't been for hockey, I might not ever have been born. To say nothing of my two sons, Mark and Dave, and two grandchildren, Jacob and Rebecca.
The story of my parents' whirwind romance (it took ten years before they finally got married -- my dad liked to take his time before he made big decisions)is linked with a professional hockey game. It was their very first date. Almost their last one, too, because my mother -- always polite -- pretended to enjoy herself but in reality, would have much preferred a concert or local theater production to watching grown men chase a puck around ice in a freezing arena and occasionally club each other over the head to keep the fans' interest.
Ah, well, as the saying goes, opposites do attract.
So in a way the Bruins victory and winning the Stanley cup is kind of like my dad winning my mom, without the ticker tape parade.
Happy Father's Day, Dad. Hope you're having a good one!
Saturday, June 18, 2011
The Death of Vlado Herzog - Life in Times of the Dictatorship.
Friday, June 17, 2011
My Protagonist Tells Me Off!
Ever wonder what your protagonists would say to you, if they were alive?
Sarah Cafferty is one of two amateur sleuths in my Logan and Cafferty mystery/suspense series. She wasn’t her usual self in my recently published novel, Murder on the Interstate, and I wanted to know why:
Author: Sarah, why are you so cranky in this novel? You’ve shown good humor in the two previous books. You’re too old for PMS.
Sarah: Cranky? What do you expect? You send a killer to stalk us and cause Dana to crash our new motorhome to escape. Then you cause us to be nearly swept away in a flash flood. The downpour scared me so badly that I irrigated my underwear.
Author: I’m sorry, Sarah. I know it was traumatic, but you have to admit that it was suspenseful.
Sarah: And where were you while we were getting soaked to our knees and nearly drowned? Sitting in your comfortable chair thinking up ways to get us into deeper trouble.
Author: That’s my job. Would you rather I replaced you with a younger sleuth?
Sarah: Over my dead bod—You know that Dana and I are only 60 and not some elderly widows with walkers. We can still do everything that the younger sleuths can do.
Author: Well . . .
Sarah: With the possible exception of skateboarding and scaling tall buildings.
Author: I was thinking of having you bungee jump in the next novel.
Sarah: Unless you’re joking, Dana and I are taking a permanent hiatus from the mystery series.
Author: What about our readers? You don’t want to disappoint them, do you?
Sarah: Haven’t we done enough? In A Village Shattered you send a serial killer after us, in Diary of Murder, a vicious drug gang. Then, in Murder on the Interstate a homegrown terrorist group kidnaps us while they’re planning to take down the entire country. How can you possibly top that?
Author: I’ve got some ideas that will knock your socks off.
Sarah: That settles it! You can email Dana and me in Aregentina. That’s where we’re going on vacation. If we don’t answer, you’ll know that some other novelist has decided to adopt us and treat us fairly.
Author: You’ll be bored within a week and out of a job in a month. Novelists who are nice to their protagonists don’t last long in the publishing business. Readers want suspense as well as mystery.
Sarah: I’ve got a great idea. You can take my place and I’ll write you into some mysterious and suspenseful situations. You’ll love bungee jumping over a crocodile pit or waking up with rattlesnakes. I can think of lots of exciting situations to place you in.
Author: Point taken, Sarah. From now on we’ll concentrate on mystery and go easy on the suspense.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
This is the cover of my next book, the 20th Daisy Dalrymple mystery, due out in January 2012. I really like it, and when I posted it on Facebook so did nearly 80 people!
It looks rather more like a mansion than the farmhouse it's supposed to be. At least I had some input--I got "them" to reduce the size of the car and increase the size of the hills. It's set in the Derbyshire Dales, a fairly rugged part of England, and Eyrie Farm is in an isolated spot surrounded by steep slopes.
Daisy drives herself to Derbyshire in her newly acquired a motor-car. It's a 1925 Gwynne 8, a two-seater with a dickey.
Daisy stalls on a steep hill. She has to double-declutch to get the car going again. Having insisted on a self-starter, she doesn't have to crank the engine.
I'm not sure whether I ever learned to double-declutch, but I remember my mother doing it in our 1934 Morris, in the late '50s and '60s. It had a button on the floor to start it, though I think she had to crank it occasionally. The windshield opened in inclement weather. Towards the end of its life, the doors were held closed by straps around the door handles.
It was known as Uncle Morris, because it was purchased with a legacy from Uncle Maurice, my godmother's father. I decided to google his name, and found this, from the London Gazette archives:
NOTICE is hereby given, that the Partnership
heretofore subsisting between us, the under-
signed, Maurice Jellinek and Henry Jellinek, carrying
on business as Brush and Fancy Goods Merchants,
at 44 and 45, Farringdon-street, in the city of London,
under the style or firm of H. JELLINEK AND CO.,
has been dissolved by mutual consent as and from the
28th day of February, 1915. All debts due to and
owing by the said late firm will be received and paid
by the said Maurice Jellinek,. who will continue the
said business under the style of H. Jellinek and Co.
—Dated this 25th day of January, 1916.
I'm sure it must be him, because I remember we always had a set of washing-up (dish scrubbing) brushes called Tip, Top, and Shine that came from the family firm.
Ah, the highways and byways of Google...!
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Why did we start speaking?
Those who know me know that, quite frequently, they should expect to hear or read plenty of absurd things, so I’m going to be self-indulgent and offer one such absurdity this week. I want to share with you a remarkable discovery I made some time ago. It came from an activity which led me to realise exactly why humankind developed language. I’d written fourteen mini scripts for a major company in the oil business, each covering a specific aspect of safe working. (Stay with me here.) They were all around 1½ minutes long and, thanks to the willingness of the person commissioning them to experiment, they dispensed with the usual shots of men in hard hats and overalls on North Sea platforms looking at gauges and pipes. Instead, they featured two cavemen performing various activities involving quarries, caves, ravines and other topographical elements of the Neanderthal context.
Needless to say, they communicated in grunts (although I also allowed them to hum and whistle stone age tunes). So, one afternoon, I went to the studio with another person and we laid down the sound tracks which would give the animators some idea of timings and maybe help them to get their creative nodes throbbing. Unfortunately, as well as grunted conversations, some of the situations in which the characters found themselves called for screams of terror, yelps of pain, groans of frustration and other things. After an hour and twenty minutes of takes and retakes, my throat felt as if it had been sandpapered.
I’ve done lots of voice-overs in my time, some of them for videos and DVDs lasting up to forty minutes, but never before felt such laryngeal distress. Talking is so much easier than grunting and, as we chatted about the results, it came to me that that was obviously why language came about. One day, some caveman or woman, after a prolonged bout of grunting, was rubbing his or her throat and suddenly thought “Bugger this, it’s too sore” and began to use more modulated sounds. Everyone around them quickly realised that, if they copied his/her example, there’d be less stress on the tube that joined their head to the rest of them. In other words, language evolved because our ancestors were fed up with having sore throats all the time.
I shall, of course, be expanding this, adding footnotes and a bibliography, and presenting it at an academic conference somewhere. I also hope it may one day be attached as an appendix to an updated edition of On the Origin of Species.
Saturday, June 11, 2011
At some time in the past, I’m sure what writers did was write.
How different the writing life is today.
I needed a Web site, so I found a super smart young lady who creates such things. I have been highly satisfied—except when some things need to be changed—like right now. I love the site she created. The only challenge is me: I sold another book—Yay—so now I need to ask this brilliant young woman to make lots of changes, which in the long run will be great. I just need to locate all of the areas and tell her what I’d like altered.
Get a My Space page, I was told early on after I sold my first mystery. I knew so little about this and figured it out enough to create a My Space page (I think), but now My Space has been replaced by something else.
We need to do Facebook and Twitter, sending Tweets and messages and, I believe, pictures. I gathered lots of Facebook friends even if my daughter who doesn’t do this said, “Oh, Mom, how sad. At your age, you need to beg people to be your friends.”
I agree. But so many individuals said, Yes! They would friend me—How cool is that?
Then I began to belive I had it licked, and along came the Tweets. I needed to search for even more friends, giving them little symbols along the way. Yet I am a writer, not a math person, and the purpose of all of those symbols and such gets confusing.
Maybe, though, things will change. Maybe if I stay at a standstill with friends and Tweets and such the whole social media thing will boomerang back to being as it was. I am a writer. You are a writer. Let’s spend our energies creating books. And maybe one reader will tell another and yet another how much they like our books. And our publishers will publish and promote our books.
A girl can wish, can’t she?
(In the meantime, please be my Friend at Facebook and Twitter. And check out my Web site at www.juneshaw.com. Thanks.)
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
To Be, or Not To Be?
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,And by opposing end them?
Farther down the quote from Hamlet's soliloquy I found other familiar sayings like perchance to dream and ay, there's the rub. Then there's shuffled off this mortal coil.
While writing this, my wife told our grandson to do something and he said a loud, "No." When she repeated it, he began the old "why, why?" To which I replied rather automatically, "Yours not to reason why, yours but to do or die."
So where did that come from? I began ruminating around in my mind and remembered it had to do with the Crimean War. I found it in The Charge of the Light Brigade by Tennyson. The correct quote is:
Monday, June 6, 2011
Each week I try to set aside Sunday mornings to write. Because I’m easily distracted by my family, I usually do my writing outside on the back porch. Only yesterday I couldn't write because the Cicadas were too loud. When enough of them get together they can reach 85 decibels. For the sake of comparison, an overhead jet is about 60 to 70 decibels. Mercifully, they only crawl out of the ground once every thirteen years. If they don’t hurry up and finish with their relations and fly away, or die, or do whatever it is that they ultimately do, I’m going to end up in the nervous hospital.
So forgive me for this short and vapid post as I promise I’ll do better next time, cicada’s willing….
Sunday, June 5, 2011
Reviews, Blurbs and...Covers?
Jean Henry Mead's Friday post aboout how much reviews and blurbs translate to book sales really generated a terrific cyberspace conversation. It made me think long and hard about my own book-buying habits, and what influences me to pull out that credit card and commit to a sale.
Of course, as someone who's pretty new to the mystery-writing club, I have to confess that any good reviews I've gotten for either Retirement Can Be Murder or the just-released Moving Can Be Murder have me babbling with joy like Sally Field at the Academy Awards all those years ago -- You like me! You really like me!
But often, I'm drawn to a book by its cover art. Yes, I do believe that sometimes -- not often -- you can judge a book by its cover. If there's a body oozing blood and gore smack in the center of the cover, it immediately turns me off. I'm drawn to bright colors and art that makes me feel happy. And I hope what's inside is entertaining.
What I truly hate is when the book itself doesn't match the cover art. I feel like I've been betrayed somehow.
I'm wondering if other folks feel that way too?
Saturday, June 4, 2011
The Death of Percy Fawcett
- Jack Fawcett, Percy’s son, urinated in the river upstream of the village, upstream of where the Kalapalos drew their drinking water. It was an affront to the entire tribe to do so.
- One of the members of Fawcett’s expedition shot a small animal. They brought it into the village and hung it up by a cord to preserve the meat from insects and small scavengers. One of the Indians came along and tried to remove a piece of the meat. An expedition member pushed him away. Another affront. The Kalapalos share food. Not to do is unacceptable behavior.
- A small child approached the white men and started playing with their goods. They pushed the child away. The child came back and did it again. One of the white men, in the European custom of the time, struck the child. And that was the greatest affront of all. The Kalapalos never strike their children.
Friday, June 3, 2011
Do Blurbs and Reviews Sell Books?
Every writer covets a great review from Publisher’s Weekly but how many readers base their purchases on reviews? Nothing I've written so far has grabbed PW’s attention although my new release, Murder on the Interstate, has earned some good comments, starting with a blurb from bestselling mystery novelist, Carolyn Hart:
“Careen into crime with two intrepid sleuths who outwit terrorists in a fast-paced plot taken from today's headlines. A page turner."
Unfortunately, it didn’t jump start book sales, nor did Lefty Award Winner J. Michael Orenduff's colorful review, which I love:
“Murder on the Interstate burns rubber right out of the gate and exceeds the speed limit on every page. With all the car chases, gun shots, screeching breaks, and crashes, the movie version could be the sequel to one of those car-heist action-films. Except for the fact that the protagonists are two women approaching Medicare, and their vehicle is a motorhome. Dana and Sarah are stalwart, clever and funny characters, and author Jean Henry Mead caroms them from one tight situation to another as they weave along the Interstate and into a high stakes mystery.”
I thought, WOW, that ought to stir up interest, but it must have only reminded readers of the tire tracks on the cover. Marilyn Meredith’s great blurb came next:
“Full of surprising twists and turns, Jean Henry Mead has produced an RV adventure with her two senior sleuths in hot pursuit of a murderer, but the tables turn and the two women learn that not only are they in danger but so is our national security. An exciting mystery that will keep you turning pages."
Book sales numbers barely budged. I thought maybe the counter was broken or everyone hated the cover. I received several additional reviews, including one of my favorites from Earl Staggs, who said:
"I don’t expect an amateur sleuth novel to start fast. I expect to spend time getting to know the protagonist, then get a feel for the setting, and maybe get to know another character or two before the story begins to move forward. That doesn’t happen in MURDER ON THE INTERSTATE. Jean Henry Mead kicks it off in high gear and doesn’t slow down. This is the kind of novel I enjoy. . .”
By then I was in the midst of a virtual book tour and Molly’s online review had this to say:
“This was good. REALLY good. REALLY REALLY good. So good, in fact, that I have GOT to go back and get the first two in this series! It was a LOT better than I was expecting. It really gripped me and kept me hanging on, until I was, sadly, on the last page. I couldn't believe the ups and downs and twists and turns it took me on. FANTASTIC!”
Readers didn’t take Molly seriously, so I decided the book’s salvation rested with Kindle and Nook. Murder on the Interstate made its official debut on Kindle today, here, and the UK, and will hopefully be a Nook book soon.
Are readers forsaking print editions for ebooks? How about you? Do you still prefer print or have you joined the ebook revolution?
And do reviews influence your book buying habits? Writers (and publishers) want to know. :)
Thursday, June 2, 2011
Pike’s Peak is one of Colorado’s most visible landmarks. It can be seen for hundreds of miles from the ground or the air. Rising 14,110 feet above sea level, it is one of the higher peaks in the Lower 48, rising sharply above Colorado Springs. Originally called "El Capitan" by Spanish settlers, the mountain was renamed Pike's Peak after explorer Zebulon Pike Jr., who “discovered” the peak in 1806 during an expedition to the southern Colorado area. But the reason for Pike’s namesake didn’t stem from his failed attempt to reach the summit, but rather what he wrote in his journal.
"...here we found the snow middle deep; no sign of beast or bird inhabiting this region. The thermometer which stood at 9° above 0 at the foot of the mountain, here fell to 4° below 0. The summit of the Grand Peak, which was entirely bare of vegetation and covered with snow, now appeared at the distance of 15 or 16 miles (26 km) [24–26 km] from us, and as high again as what we had ascended, and would have taken a whole day's march to have arrived at its base, when I believed no human being could have ascended to its pinnacle. This with the condition of my soldiers who had only light overalls on, and no stockings, and every way ill provided to endure the inclemency of the region; the bad prospect of killing anything to subsist on, with the further detention of two or three days, which it must occasion, determined us to return."
Fourteen years after Pike, Edwin James scaled what he called “Pike’s highest peak” as the relief botanist for the Long Expedition. He and two other men left the expedition, camped on the plains, and climbed the peak in two days. Along the way, he was the first to describe the blue columbine, which later became Colorado's state flower. In July, 1893, Pike’s summit inspired Katherine Lee Bates to write the song America the Beautiful. A plaque commemorating this accomplishment now lies at the peak. But eleven thousand years before the White Man ever walked this area, Native American Ute Indians, known as the People of the Shining Mountains roamed it.
It’s important to realize that discovery, like nearly everything in life, is relative. Rather than say Pike discovered this peak, it may be more appropriate to state that he climbed it. But perhaps the bigger lesson here is the power that lies in the written word. The Ute were part of the land they shared with all other creatures, and never laid claim. They didn’t write about it in a language the White Man understood. But once the White Man wrote about it, Pike’s Peak became a landmark. We cannot change our history, but we can use this as an example of interpretation. Think about the Ute when you write your stories, and never underestimate the power of the pen.
The Power of Hope
The television show Criminal Minds frequently features voice-overs of the lead characters sharing famous quotations that reflect or illuminate the themes of each episode. Tonight, as I was half-watching a DVR'd rerun of the show, I heard a quote from Friederich Nietzsche, who said, "Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torment."
In Greek mythology, Pandora was entrusted with a container (originally a jar, but in modern terms generally referred to as a box) which she was forbidden to open under any circumstances. But curiosity compelled her to open the box. As soon as the lid was opened, all the evils of the world were released. Appalled by the consequences of her act, she slammed the lid down, but it was too late. Only one thing remained in the box/jar--Hope.
We are never told why Hope remains in the box. Is the story, like Neitzsche, telling us that Hope is a great evil? Does it mean that, while evil has been released, Hope is still trapped in the box, forever unattainable?
I recall a version that ends with Pandora, realizing what she has done, opening the box a second time and releasing Hope into the world. I prefer this ending, because I believe Hope is the antidote to "all the evils of the world" and that its presence in the box was a gift of grace.
Hope is a vital component of every writer's toolbox. What else would keep us going when yet another agent or editor rejects our work, when our Amazon ratings hover in the millions, when our Kindle sales are in the single digits, or when a disgruntled reader posts a one-star review? What gives some writers the stamina to go on writing page after page and book after book until they finally get that contract or that good review, while others fall by the wayside?
The love of writing, of course, but I think there's something more. That something more is Hope. Hope that each book will be better than the last. Hope that we will write something that will touch readers' hearts--make them laugh, make them cry, entertain them, help them forget their problems, or reassure them that they are not alone. Hope that our words will make a difference.
Hope helps us stay the course.
There have been times when I've felt like I would never be a "real" writer, that I was just fooling myself with false hope. Fortunately, those times have never lasted long. My wonderful critique group, my family, my friends, and my blessedly supportive spouse have always helped me rekindle Hope.
What has helped you keep your hopes alive?
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
by Alice Duncan, standing in for Carola Dunn
In August of this year, GENTEEL SPIRITS, the fifth book in my “Spirits” series starring Daisy Gumm Majesty, will be published. This makes me very happy, since for a while I thought Daisy was dead in the water. But she lives on!
I love Daisy. She came to me out of the blue one day, perhaps because I’d been trying to think of how to use Pasadena, California, in a book. After I moved to Roswell, NM, I became rather nostalgic about Pasadena. Then I visited my daughter there and decided once again that Pasadena as it is now isn’t the Pasadena as it was when I was a kid in it. If that makes any sense.
What I wanted to write about was the Pasadena of the Good Old Days (which probably weren’t any better than our days for the people who lived in them) when it was a haven for wealthy easterners who wintered there and Hollywood folks who wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of work.
Of course, I know nothing about how rich people live, having been poor all my life, but I do know that rich folks need the rest of us to provide services for them. Then, all of a sudden, a hardworking phony spiritualist who has too many burdens to bear appeared as if by magic in my head, and Daisy was born! I’d recently met a woman here in Roswell, NM, whose last name is Majesty and she said she’d be glad to lend Daisy her last name. I gave her Gumm as a maiden name (don’t ask me how or why. These things just happen), an aunt who is possibly the best cook in the world, a supportive family (hey, authors always make things up) and a husband who’d been grievously wounded in the Great War, and I was set to go.
I had intended my “Spirits” books to be historical cozy mysteries, but that the Powers That Be at Kensington asked me to take out the dead bodies and add a subsidiary romance (since Daisy is already married to the love of her life, Billy). They marketed the first two books as romances, which they aren’t, so the series died unsung (actually, they weren’t entirely unsung. The few people who read them seemed to like them. Heck, the first book was a Romantic Times Top Pick and was nominated for a Reviewer’s Choice award). My favorite blurb of all time came from Booklist’s review of last year’s HUNGRY SPIRITS expresses my sentiments to a T: “This enjoyable series deserves to be much better known.” Couldn’t have said it better myself!
The books might have died easily, but their demise hurt me terribly, since I loved writing Daisy’s stories and Daisy is my very favorite character of those I’ve created. I was absolutely thrilled to death when Five Star, a publisher that primarily targets libraries, decided to pick up the series with HIGH SPIRITS.
And now it’s almost GENTEEL SPIRITS time! In GENTEEL SPIRITS, Daisy is hired to be the spiritual advisor to a spoiled-rotten silent-screen star named Lola de la Monica. Daisy’s bete noir (and her husband’s best friend), Sam Rotondo (a name lent me by a cousin, whose last name is Rotondo) is also on the set. He’s a Pasadena police detective and is pretty much always sure Daisy is up to something dire. Add some poison-pen letters and some folks with deep, dark secrets to protect, and Daisy’s really in the soup. It’s a good thing Daisy knows how to swim and doesn’t mind the heat.
I think it’s really funny that a penchant for spiritualism actually runs in my family (on my dad’s side). My late brother Al told me he used to be dragged to séances all the time when he was a boy. I didn’t even know that until about a year ago. But I guess this spiritualist bent is in the genes.
If you’d like to read the first chapter of GENTEEL SPIRITS, click here. If you’d like to see Pasadena, California, in Daisy’s day, click here.
Also (happy thought) you can get the first three books in the series (STRONG SPIRITS, FINE SPIRITS, HIGH SPIRITS and HUNGRY) for your Kindle or your iPod, so you can read ‘em in order. If you’re interested in doing so, click here.
By the way, the cover art for GENTEEL SPIRITS is probably my favorite cover of the . . . um . . . let me count them. Well, of the 50-odd books I’ve had published. 50 books. And I’m poorer than your average church mouse. There’s definitely something wrong with this picture!
[Carola interjects: But nothing wrong with the following picture--did you ever see such genteel dogs?]
I’m very pleased and flattered that Carola asked me to fill in for her while she’s in England. Thanks, Carola! Please feel free to visit my web page at www.aliceduncan.net or to write me at email@example.com .